Submitted April 26, 2008 by Martha Stevens-David
My paternal Grandmother, Eunice Robinson Stevens was a woman of unimpeachable character and she had an inner strength and an outer beauty that didn't come from a cosmetic bottle. Her smooth, white skin glowed with a pink undertone and when she fastened her deep, blue eyes on you, you knew that you were looking at someone "special." Grammy, due to her Swedish heritage, had long, blond hair that she kept pinned up in big rolls on the top of her head. She stood just over five feet tall and she walked with a regal-ness that most people, even those of royal birth, didn't have. She was a "lady" in the truest sense of the word.
Since I had the good fortune of having been named after Grandmother, I often got to go stay with her at her house which was located on the Garfield Road in Garfield Plantation. Grammy had many virtues and one of those was that she was the cleanest housekeeper ever. It was often said by all those who knew her that "you could eat off her floors!" And you really could!
Her tiny, white painted cottage consisted of two rooms downstairs, which were a kitchen and an adjoining living room and two rooms up which were her bedroom and an attic over the kitchen. There was a narrow porch that ran across the entire front of the house that she used for extra sleeping space for visitors in the short, summer months in Aroostook County, Maine.
Her modest house contained all kinds of treasures to us kids and when ever I would get invited to spend some time with her, she'd sort through her "junk" box and always find some kind of "treasure" for me to take home.
Grammy loved plants and she had the most beautiful peonies, Oriental poppies and roses planted all around her house. Her flowers always seemed to be bigger and sweeter than all of her neighbors and she was constantly being asked what she did to make them grow so well. She'd just shake her lovely, blond head and with a twinkle in her lovely eyes, she'd disavow any knowledge of doing anything "special" to her plants.
But, she did have a little secret that she didn't share with anyone. After washing her dishes or her laundry, she'd always take her dish water or her wash water out and dump it on her flowers and that was the secret. The dirty wash water was full of phosphorous, which at that time in the early fifty's, was an ingredient found in most of the soap products and all her plants just thrived on this chemical.
Everything in Grammy's modest home had a place and everything was in its place too. Grammy was neat and clean about everything she did and most especially about her laundry. I'll never forget the time she taught me about the importance of hanging out the wash. Most people never gave it a second thought I suppose. They'd wash their clothes and hang them out and when they'd dried, take them in and that was it. Not Grammy Stevens.
In nineteen fifty-three I was nearly nine and Grammy at that time didn't have what we now call a modern washing machine. She still boiled her white clothes in a large kettle on a wood stove and scrubbed everything else on a scrub board. She didn't wait till a lot of dirty clothes piled up before doing the laundry either. If the day was nice and she had clothes to wash, she did her laundry. There was always something clean flapping on her clothesline in the clean, strong winds of Aroostook County. My "laundry" lesson came one day when I was visiting Grammy. She had come down with a cold and I volunteered to hang out her laundry. I was so proud when she looked at me and with a slight smile on her lips, she told me to go ahead. I carried the basket out to her back porch, reeled in the clothes already dried and proceeded to hang out the clothes in my basket. Every now and then, I could hear Grammy walk to the kitchen door and I knew that she was looking out to see how I was doing.
I finally pushed the last clothes pin onto the tail of a shirt and turned to go into the house. As I turned, I was surprised to find Grammy, in her bathrobe, standing right behind me. "Toots," she said to me in her clear sweet voice. "Can you tell me what's wrong with the clothes on this line?" I turned and looked at the line of clothes flappin' in the strong breeze and I didn't see anything wrong. "Nope, Grammy, I don't see anything wrong. They've all got pins on them and none have fallin' off." Her blue eyes slid over me and I sensed that she wasn't too amused with my answer. Grammy turned and stepped off the porch and motioned for me to follow. She walked over to the edge of the garage and again told me to look at the wash that I'd just hung out. "Do you see anything wrong with that wash?" I stared again at all the clothes that were hangin' there and again I shook my head no. Finally Grammy told me what she'd been dying to tell me all along. "You know, in life, all things have to have order. When you do your laundry, you have to start with the largest items and then continue right down to the smallest. If you hang out only work pants, then you have to see which ones are the longest in the legs and then go down in size." I stared at her and said, "Grammy, who cares about that?" Hearin' my stupid question, her blue eyes snapped and she said, "Well, I do for one and besides, all of the neighbors will too. If you hang your clothes out just any which way, all the neighbors and everyone who goes down the road will know what kind of house keeper you are. They'll think you're lazy and don't care what others think. When you do your wash, you have to sort everything out and hang it from the largest to the smallest items. Come with me and I'll show you how to do it right!"
Grammy quickly took all of the clothes off the line that I had just hung out and put them in the basket and marched me into her clean, warm kitchen. She dumped the damp clothes out onto the kitchen table and then she separated all the items by color, starting with the whites first. She then arranged them by size, the largest item first right down to the smallest.
Then all the clothes were put back into her basket and taken outside to be rehung but first I had to take an old, clean rag and run it along the whole length of the line to make sure there was not dirt on the line. When we were done rehanging the clothes, she walked back to the corner of the garage and looked with pride at her clothes line. "Now do you see what I was talking about?" I looked at all the clothes hanging there, whites all together, similar colors all together and everything matched according to size and I nodded my head and was I ever glad that that laundry lesson was finally over!
Grammy had loads of grandchildren and we were all equally loved and welcomed at her house. Over the years, she'd had a log cabin built on her property a short distance from her house and from time to time, all the cousins would gather there for a barbecue and a sleep-over. Most of my happiest childhood memories are of Grammy Stevens and her home.
After Grandfather Stevens' death around nineteen thirty, Grandmother remained single for a number of years and when she finally did consent to remarry, she married a man, Warren Peterson, who was twenty years her junior. This age mismatched marriage was cause for much talk in the small settlement of Garfield, however, she and her new husband seemed very compatible together and it was obvious that "Uncle Pete" as we called him adored her and the ground she walked on. Dad, however, must have found it a bit disconcerting to have a step-father who was about the same age as he was.
Christmas just wasn't Christmas without Grammy Stevens either. Mother had a rule where Grandmother was concerned that we were never allowed to break. Christmas couldn't begin at our house unless Grammy and Uncle Pete had arrived and we had to wait until Christmas dinner was over before we could open our gifts too.
Mother used to put the Christmas tree up the week before Christmas and it was always in the same place at the foot of the stairs. She'd wrap the few presents that she'd been able to buy or make for us eight kids and put them under the tree. Over the years, my two older brothers, Walt and Jake had perfected the art of slipping one of their gifts under their pajama tops and they'd sneak it upstairs on their way to bed at night. They'd unwrap it and play with it or examine it for a little while then, they'd rewrap it and take it back downstairs and put it back under the tree. So, by Christmas Day, the boys knew exactly what every present was and they'd be the last two to come down the stairs on Christmas morning. Come Christmas day, Mother used to wonder why the boys weren't more enthusiastic about opening their presents.
On Christmas morning, we'd all rush up to the attic where we'd scratch a hole in the frosted up window pane that looked out on the road and the Eastern horizon and we'd keep a vigil there until we saw Grammy's car coming down the road. Some years we'd have record snowstorms and the snow banks would be plowed so high that they nearly touched the sagging electric wires on the telephone poles and we'd never see her coming down the road until she'd pulled up in our driveway.
When I was about sixteen years old and when visiting her one day, Grammy gave me some real words of wisdom. She was ensconced in a high, wingback chair in her living room and she was looking through her well-worn cookbook for a special recipe to make for my visit. After a while, she lay the cookbook she was reading in her lap and gazed at me intently at for a couple of minutes before she spoke and I knew that it was going to be one of her "words of wisdom" lectures. "Toots," She said. "Now that you are getting to be a 'young lady' you should be very careful about your reputation because you can't trust any man to take care of you." Surprised by her serious tone and embarrassed by the topic, my face got red and there I was trapped like a fox in the henhouse. I waited for her to continue. She went on to explain that there was a sure-fire way for a young girl like me not to be seduced by an unscrupulous male. She paused for a moment to let her sage advice sink in and then she went on to say that whenever I had a date with a boy who I thought was particularly handsome, I should wear my most worn out, holey underwear. Hearing this final odd statement, I looked at her and asked, "For goodness sakes Grammy! Why would I want to do that?" Her bright, blue eyes slid over me and with a twinkle in her eyes and a slight smile on her face, she said. "My dear child, if you wear your oldest, rattiest underwear, you might not be in such a hurry to have him see your undies!"
She and Uncle Pete lived a happy, quiet life together in their modest home on the Garfield Road until Uncle Pete died of cancer in nineteen sixty-three. She continued to live alone in the neat little house on the Garfield road for quite some time until one snowy winter's night, something or someone did something which badly frightened her. The next thing we knew, she'd put everything up for sale and moved to live with her daughter, Ada, in Washington, DC.
Grammy lived to the age of ninety-eight until she was diagnosed with breast cancer and when told that her doctors recommended immediate surgery to save her life, she declined. When asked why she didn't want them to operate, she said that she had lived a good long life and most of the people that she'd really loved were now long gone. She finally died of breast cancer at the age of ninety-nine because she wouldn't let the doctors operate. She had chosen her time and way to die.
Grandmother once showed me a picture of herself when she was about sixteen years old. She had on a long, blue Victorian dress with a bustle on the back and she was standing behind her sister Ruth, who was seated in a chair. Grammy was looking directly at the camera. To me, she was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen. She looked like a lovely Swedish princess. She told me that someday, when she was gone, that picture would be mine. Well, Grammy is long gone now and I have never received the picture but I really don't need that picture at all because I have her image etched in my mind till the end of time.
Grandmother Stevens is buried in the Ashland cemetery next to her first husband, James Stevens. When I was home a few years ago, I went down to the cemetery to pay my respects and was shocked to see that she had been buried next to a man who had treated her so poorly and not next to the man who had loved her so much. But, Grandmother, being a woman of honor, that's the way she wanted it.
May you rest in peace Grandmother, you've certainly earned it. I know that you are up there watching over me and by the way, I still hang my clothes just the way you taught me all those many years ago.
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